Paul Wheelton tells Liz Henderson why he gave $500,000 to Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School, bringing his recent major gifts to education to $1.5 million.

Paul Wheelton has given $500,000 towards Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School’s capital appeal to build a new learning centre to “encourage other members of the school community to engage”.

The certified accountant, who credits the advantage of his private high-school education in Melbourne with helping him climb the ladder to become owner of the largest Budget-Rent-A-Car franchise group, says Australians are “shy” of openly taking the lead in philanthropy by going public about their giving.

“They’re using it as part of the marketing program so I’m taking the risk of being the tall poppy,” he reveals. “It’s a bit of a risk for me, but I’m passionate about the need to push it and to actually get out there and talk about the subject because no-one likes talking about it in this country – we’re all shy of it.”

It’s the latest step in a long association with the Melbourne school for Wheelton, who is passionate about supporting education. He gave $1 million to build the Wheelton Centre, opened last year, at Camberwell Grammar School, where he was dux in 1973.

“They were able to use it to engage others with the school community and leverage off it so that’s what I’m doing here, trying to leverage the school community to actually engage in the project and support it,” he says.

“I have been a minor donor in the past – three of my girls went to Strathcona,” he points out. “I’ve actually organised a football Brownlow breakfast for them for over 20 years so I’ve had a connection.”

Wheelton gives 20 per cent of his personal income to nonprofits, and 80 per cent  of his time is devoted to charitable causes. Currently he is chairman of Life Education Victoria and the Bali Children Foundation as well as overseeing the Wheelton Family Charitable Trust which supports children’s wellbeing and education.

While he feels philanthropists, themselves, need to take the lead in inspiring generosity in others, he also believes charities have an opportunity to encourage major donations by offering more naming opportunities.

“I’ve been sort of investigating why the levels of giving in Australia are lower than elsewhere in terms of percentage,” he says. “One of the things I looked at was in terms of buildings.”

“In America every private school and every private hospital have buildings with a name on them from major benefactors. And in Australia schools are generally in the name of an ex-teacher.”

Liz Henderson is editor of Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine.

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